Expanded to a two-day roster of competitions for close to 600 Northeast Tennessee youths and adults with special needs, Thursday’s games began with a parade of 300 8- to 21-year-old athletes from schools in four surrounding counties.
Participants in the Johnson City Police Department’s eighth annual, first-responder Special Olympics Torch Run led the athletes onto the floor of the mini-dome, where they were greeted by a stage full of ETSU and Johnson City dignitaries who came to help open the games.
Garrison Buchanan, from Science Hill High School, was given the honor of lighting the Special Olympics cauldron.
The Science Hill Junior ROTC Color Guard presented the flag. Special Olympic athletes Montana Turnmire, from Boones Creek Elementary School, Mason Shelton, from Jonesborough Elementary School, and Mason Harrison, from Jonesborough Middle School, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Kyle Marshall, from Science Hill, sang the national anthem. Johnson Vice Mayor Jenny Brock led the crowd in a prayer and Liberty Bell Middle School’s Hector Gomez Ortega, Dominick Hensley and Jabrayan Anderson led the crowd in the Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.”
Dante Bolognese was recognized as Area 3 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year. The Science Hill Spirit Squad came to the stage for a couple of crowd-pleasing dance routines, and finally, ETSU President Brian Noland was given the honor of declaring the games open.
Then with gold, silver and bronze medals awaiting them, the athletes and a team of more than 50 volunteers who coordinated their events dispersed to the competition staging areas.
Micah Jackson, 8, from Carter County's Keenburg Elementary School was among the first to run in the boys’ 50-meter run and crossed the finish line with the same broad smile he was wearing when the starting pistol sounded.
On the opposite end of the mini-dome, Ronnie Jackson from Daniel Boone High School hurled a softball toward the roof of the dome and celebrated the impressive breadth of his throw with volunteer Neil Hartley, who coached him through it.
In the girl’s 50-meter run, Mikayla Boldt and Gracie Hersher from Hunter Elementary School in Carter County ran a close race for bronze and silver medals with solid gold smiles on both of their faces.
And in three consecutive turns of good fortune, John Bush, from Unicoi County’s Love Chapel Elementary School, had just been awarded his first gold and said hello to Director of Schools John English when a crowd of fans taking pictures overtook them.
“It’s such an exciting day for them,” English said. “We brought 50 of our middle schoolers out to cheer them on.”
The games will continue Friday morning with a second round of opening ceremony festivities and a parade of more than 250 adult Special Olympics athletes starting at 9:30.
Area 3 Special Olympics Public Relations Coordinator Sara Green invited all Special Olympic athlete families, friends and fans as well as the public to come out and enjoy “an uplifting and exciting day for athletes, coaches, parents and volunteers alike.”
Email Sue Guinn Legg at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.